Caring for Your Handknits: Steaming

This is the third post in our series Caring for Your Handknits.

Post 1: Planning for the Future

Post 2: Washing

In the last post, we went over how to wash your garments using a non-rinse wool wash.  But what if your item is too delicate to withstand water?  You can steam your item.  Steaming does not clean an item the way a soak in water does, but it does breathe new life into an item that is looking a little worn or bedraggled. Steaming will plump up the stitches and re-shape an item.

Warning: Please follow the directions and settings that come with your steam iron.

You will need an iron that has a steam function, an iron-safe surface and a piece of colorfast thin cotton (an undyed batiste is thin enough for the steam to penetrate).  If the item needs to be a particular shape or measurement, like a lace shawl, you will need rust-proof T-pins to hold the item in place.


Step 1: Place the item to be steamed on the iron-safe surface.  Smooth out any wrinkles in the fabric. If it needs to be pinned, now is the time to do it.  Once the item is in place, cover it with the cotton fabric. Okay, so I forgot my piece of cotton, but the point of the fabric is to keep you from planting the iron directly on top of the yarn.

Step 2: Let the iron heat until it steams when you turn it to face the fabric.  I tend to steam a little bit of the fabric that is not over my knitted item first, just to make sure it is hot enough. Being careful to not touch the fabric with the iron, slowly move the iron over the surface of the item.  I will steam a section for a little bit, but once my hand starts getting heated from the steam (be careful of steam burns!), I’ll set the iron aside and lift the cotton to check on the item.

Step 3: Once the whole item has been steamed and the stitches have started to relax, let the item sit until it is dry.  Steaming still puts a little bit of moisture into the item and in order for the item to hold the shaping, it needs to dry in that shape.

Once the item is dry, you can remove the pins and store the item.  If I’m in a hurry to block pieces for seaming, I’ll steam them, but I prefer to wet block.  If I’m trying to clean dirt and grime off, I definitely wet block – the non-rinse wool washes pick up the dirt and keep it out of the fabric.  Steaming does not remove the dirt from a piece, but merely freshens the stitches.


Caring for Your Handknits: Washing

This is the second post in our series Caring for Your Handknits.

In the previous post, we went over how important it is to keep the yarn information from each project.  In this post, we are going to go over washing your handknit or handcrocheted item.

Step 1: Check the yarn information.

This particular sweater is out of an 75% Superwash Merino/ 25% Nylon yarn, so it could be machine-washed.  However, the pattern is a cabled lace and I don’t want to subject this type of fabric to the stresses of machine-washing, so I’m going to soak it in a basin of room temperature water and some type of no-rinse wash (Eucualan and Soak are two popular washes). Also, I must have noticed that when I washed the swatch, some of the color bled, so I’ve noted this item should be washed alone.

Step 2: Soak the item.  I smush it gently below the surface of the water to get fully wet and then I leave it for 30 minutes (or whenever I remember to get back to it).

Step 3: Gently drain off excess water. I tip the basin over the edge of the sink while holding my hand in front of the sweater to keep the sweater from dropping out of the basin.

At this point, I try to avoid picking up the sweater because the weight of the water can distort the fabric and stretch it out.  Once most of the water is drained, I do one of two things to get rid of the excess water: the spin cycle on my washing machine or rolling it in towels.

Step 4a: If you are going to use the spin cycle on the washing machine, make sure that it only spins the basket. Do not put your item in a machine that will agitate or rinse the garment.  I gently set the garment on the bottom of the basket and close the lid. You only need to let it spin for a minute or so.  The centrifugal force of the spin basket keeps the sweater slapped up against the side of the basket, so it is not agitated at all. The item should feel considerably drier than before. Damp, yes, but not sopping wet. (My washing machine is in the darkest corner possible of my garage, so this was the least blurry picture I could shoot – with the overhead light bulb on and the garage doors up)

Step 4b: If you aren’t sure of your washing machine or aren’t near one, rolling your item up in towels is a never-fail way of getting that excess water out of the garment.  I usually use three or four towels stacked together.

Gently arrange the garment on the towel stack.

Roll the stack into a jelly roll shape.

I usually stand on it (no shoes) for a minute or so to help work the water into the towels and then I’ll let it sit for a while, or I’ll put it into a second towel stack.

This technique does produce a lot of wet towels, so you’ll need to consider places to hang them to dry.

Step 5: Once the excess water has been removed, gently lay out the item, using your fingers to smooth out the fabric and shape the fabric for drying.  I have a towel-covered area or a mesh drying rack that I use for this.  I prefer the mesh drying rack (from a home goods store like Bed Bath and Beyond) because the air is able to move underneath the garment and it dries a little bit faster.  If I’m trying to dry it more quickly, I’ll turn on the ceiling fan or set a box fan to lightly move the air across the item.

This method is pretty much the same one I use to wet-block my pieces before seaming.  If it is something that I need to block to a particular measurement, I’ll use the towel-covered area to dry the item so that I can stick pins (non-rust T-pins) into the towel to hold the item’s shape and measurement.

Caring for Your Handknits: Planning for the Future

Welcome to our latest blog post series Caring for Your Handknits. Many of our customers question how to care for and store their precious handknits and we hope to answer those questions.

Firstly, with just a wee bit of planning ahead, care and storage becomes much easier.  If you are giving a handknit item as a gift, a few little touches make the gift even more special. Keeping track of the yarn information is the key to treating your handknits properly.

Instead of having a stack of yarn labels hanging around, I write it all down on an index card. I include the brand and yarn line, the color number, yarn content and any care instructions that were on the label.  If I’m really on top of things, I also include the pattern name and the size I am knitting (this does not always occur).  If spreadsheets are your thing, creating one for your handknits can be invaluable.  I’ll tell you why I prefer the index card – it involves the next part.

Once I am finished with my project – everything is seamed up, zippers sewn in, buttons on, I take about two yards of the remaining yarn and wrap those around part of the index card.  If I need to make a repair in the future or I want to match the yarn without hauling my garment along, this bit of yarn is handy.  If I have an extra button or two, I’ll tack those onto the index card as well.

If it is a gift item, I try to make it look a little nicer – making the tag on the computer and including a picture of the finished item.

Of course, once you’ve done all this work, you have to keep this information in a safe place. It doesn’t do you much good if you can’t find the index cards with all these valuable facts. I wrapped a cardboard box in fabric (so it isn’t “borrowed” by anyone else in my house) and keep the index cards in there.

The crucial information is all stored away safely and I can use those parts of my brain for remembering something else besides which sweaters are 100% wool vs. 100% Superwash Wool.

Now, clearly, this is a system that works for me.  I’ve seen binders with each projects information stored in a sheet protector.  Someone else uses an accordion file.  Any organization system that works for you could be adapted to keep track of your projects and spare yarn.  The important thing is that you have the yarn information from each project available.